Out From The Shadows

Review – Themes In The Indian Short Story In English: An Historical And A Critical Survey; Murli Melwani; Prakash Book Depot 2009; pp207; Rs 175.

– Shana Susan Ninan

Interestingly, if we look at the chronology of story telling, man started writing short stories and penning down folktales way before the longer novel was even thought of. In that case, the short story is the parent, and the novel the step-child, a 360-degree turn on how both the genres are viewed today. Murli Melwani’s Themes In The Indian Short Story In English: An Historical And A Critical Survey is an expansive examination of the history and themes of the Indian short stories in English and the patterns that emerge from them. The book’s divided into six sections, plus one on the prospects of the short story in English in India, at the end.

The introduction deals with the global start and reception of short stories. In the First Section, Melwani gives us inputs on the controversial first Indian ‘short story’ in English – A Journal of Forty Eight Hours of The Year 1945, by Kylash Chander Dutt in Calcutta Literary Gazette – published in 1835. Certain authors and researchers have dubbed it a ‘short novel’ as techniques suggest so. Subsequently, there were short novels and short stories by other Indians and British citizens living in British India.

Mulk Raj Anand, R.K. Narayan, Raja Rao, Manjeri Isvaran and a few others are featured in ‘The First Flowering 1935-1945’. Next, ‘The Fifties’ elucidates the works of Khushwant Singh, Attia Hosain and G.D. Khosla. English as a medium of writing in India came of age in the sixties: Section IV, ‘The Second Flowering 1960-1970’ looks at the works of Bunny Reuben, Ruth Jhabvala, Ruskin Bond and a couple of Anglo Indians.

Indian writing in English had reached a stage of maturity where authors writing with some amount of ‘Indianness’ were accepted as much as those writing in British English. Section V is ‘The Blossoming’ – a look at one of the high points of Indian short stories in English, colour and prowess lent by writers such as Padma Hejmadi, Keki N. Daruwalla, Anita Desai, Kamala Das and other prominent writers of that era. In ‘An Extended Spring’, Melwani delves into the lively short stories of the period between 1980 and 2008. As the index will tell you, there was a rise of women writers, portraying life from their point of view, something that was new in India. Outstanding lady writers who became famous in the age were Radhika Jha, Manjula Padmanabhan, Diana Romany, Temsula Ao, Anita Nair, Susan Viswanathan and Shinie Antony. Most of them went onto become known novel writers, too, later.

In the six sections, he has mapped out the varieties of themes handled by an author as well as focused on a central idea that runs through all of the short stories of that author. Sometimes, you can see Melwani comparing authors in the same era and across genres. ‘The Prospect’ gives hope to short writers and their audience, with Melwani mentioning strongly that the future of contemporary short stories lies in the rise and sustenance of e-zines, ‘little’ publishers, literary agents, women publishers and book clubs. Awards and recognitions will give the much-needed impetus for short stories and their writers.

The voice of the author does not overshadow that of the writers reviewed in his book. Melwani’s comments only add to the richness of his own writing. He remains a surveyor – in the background, shooting the works he’s reviewing into the limelight. Murli’s observations are not limited to the surface of the story. He digs deep into the sap of each story of an author, revealing a neat core of points for the readers to chew on. He gives us his insightful thoughts on the author’s style of writing, the tone, decorative devices he/she uses, the political/militaristic/other background of the author and other tidbits.

Melwani’s writing is involved and encompassing. His words are carefully chosen, sometimes funny, and definitely not bookish. The fact that he doesn’t discuss the story as such makes us wanna read these short stories he’s mentioned! And, his work stands out where he has brought short story writers and their pieces from across years, genres and gender under a single banner. As we know novels cannot deviate much from their plot and characters, but the short story is the apt instrument to capture a diversified nation’s, such as India, language, culture and beliefs. He brings to the fore seemingly-minor nuances that lend strength to the short story over a novel.

That some short story writers have been left out isn’t a setback for the book. Melwani’s dedicated research is praiseworthy. On the whole a pleasant read for short story lovers and a great guide book for researchers.

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Rating: 8.8/10 (11 votes cast)
Out From The Shadows , 8.8 out of 10 based on 11 ratings

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 27th, 2010 at 7:20 pm and is filed under History, Literature, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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